How to start a conversation in Japanese
Welcome back to another “Video & Article” series with tutor Wakako. In this article and video we will take a look at how to start a conversation in Japanese. Many Japanese learners are confused or unsure which level of politeness to use in Japanese when initially speaking to someone. This lesson will provide you with some polite phrases and conversation starters to use in all kinds of situations!
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The Japanese language has a polite way and a casual way of speaking. You probably know that the polite way is usually used to talk to your boss in the office, to teachers, or to people who are older than you. However, you will have to speak in the polite way when you talk to strangers and people you haven’t gotten close to yet. If you are an adult and you talk to a stranger in casual Japanese, it may sound impolite. After you get to know a person well, you can gradually change the speaking style from the polite one to the casual one.
So what are some safe topics to use when starting a conversation with a Japanese stranger? Japanese people often use the place they live as a conversation starter. Here are some examples:
A : どこに住んでいるんですか？
Where do you live?
I live in Yokohama.
I live in Kawasaki. It’s near, isn’t it?
How long did it take to come here?
Which train line did you take to come here?
If you know some trivia about the place of the person you are speaking with is from, you can comment further on that. If you don’t know the place, you can follow up with some questions:
Oh, you live in Yokohama? I have been there before. I remember that Minato Mirai is there, isn’t it?
Oh, you live in Yokohama? What kind of town is it?
How do you get there from here?
This information may seem trivial, but it shows your polite interest in striking up and continuing your conversation.
Another universal conversation starter is obviously the weather:
It’s hot today, isn’t it?
It is always raining these days, isn’t it?
The rainy season is annoying, isn’t it?
In these phrases, the sentence ending particle “ね” is crucial because this “ね” indicates that you are asking for agreement, and thus a reaction from your conversation partner. If you say these very same phrases without “ね”, for example “今日は暑いです”, it just becomes a bland statement and doesn’t work well as a conversation starter since it doesn’t involve the other person.
Talking about the weather only takes you so far, however, and may end in a simple exchange.
It’s hot today, isn’t it?
Yes, it is.
In that case, you can talk further about the weather or pick a new topic.
What do you do for work?
Please be aware that Japanese people normally wouldn’t ask “あなたの仕事は何ですか？”, because it is not polite enough to use for a complete stranger. “されている” is the respectful form of “している”. “仕事” here needs the honorific prefix “お” because this “仕事” belongs to the person you are talking to so you need to show your respectfulness.
If it is not a formal situation and the person you are talking to is in the same position as you, or just your friend’s friend, you can speak a bit more casually.
What do you do?
Women sometimes start conversations with strangers by pointing out the clothes and items they are wearing in a more casual situation.
I like your dress! Where did you get it?
The English word “dress” is “ワンピース” in Japanese. If you say “ドレス” in Japanese, it means a more gorgeous dress for a special occasion such as a wedding dress or cocktail dress.
However, in business situations, talking about people’s appearances may not be appropriate, so it is safer to avoid to talk about their choice of fashion.
That is all for today’s lesson. It takes some courage to to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a foreign language, so we hope today’s lesson will help you make new Japanese friends. If you have any questions you can always clear them up by booking a lesson with one of our native Japanese tutors. See you next time!
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